Preview: 2014 British Cycling National Road Championships

Preview: 2014 British Cycling National Road Championships

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British road champion Lizzie Armitstead will return from international duties to defend her title on 29 June in Monmouthshire but with Mark Cavendish out of the running, a new elite men's champion will be crowned in Abergavenny.

Laura Trott returns to defend her under-23 title while the door is open for a new under-23 men's champion, following Simon Yates' ascension into the WorldTour ranks.

However, one thing is for sure; with testing courses and a world class field for all categories the eventual winners of the elite and under-23 men’s and women’s races will be worthy ones.

Elite women

Start list

Women's road race course - Click to enlarge

The elite women will race over 101-kilometres - one lap of the 72-kilometre long circuit through Abergavenny, Usk and Monmouth followed by four laps of the 7.2-kilometre circuit around Abergavenny.

Defending champion Lizzie Armitstead will start the race as runaway favourite. The Boels Dolmans rider currently leads the UCI World Cup by a huge margin and with the hilly course playing to her strengths, few would bet against Armistead to retain her title.

“I want it to be a hard race. The harder the race the better for me,” said Armitstead. "If it's hillier to start with then I'll have to start attacking earlier. That's as simple as it is really.”

Armitstead won both of her previous national titles in 2011 and 2013 on undulating courses. 2011 saw the rider sprint clear from an elite group in Stamfordham, Northumberland, while 2013’s finale was contested on the short, sharp climbs of Glasgow city centre.

The nationals is never an easy race to call however and there’s a comprehensive list of challengers amid the field. The Wiggle Honda squad of Elinor Barker, Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell are a formidable outfit, well-used to working together on road and track and will outnumber the defending champion four-to-one with Armitstead the sole Boels Dolman’s rider on the start list.

“We've got five girls in that team,” said Rowsell. “Lizzie's not got so many teammates so we'll be out there to win the race of course.”

Winner in 2010, Emma Pooley is also in the starting line-up riding for her club VC Norwich. The Lotto Belisol Ladies team rider excels in hilly terrain, having previous won the Grande Boucle Feminine (the women’s Tour de France) and the mountains classification of the Giro d'Italia Femminile.

Present too is 2012 winner Sharon Laws, who got the better of both Armitstead and Pooley on a challenging course in Yorkshire.

Although just 19, Giant Shimano’s Lucy Garner will also be a threat, especially if the race comes down to a bunch sprint.

Under-23 women

Start list

The under-23 women will race alongside the elites over 101-kilometres, one lap of the 72-kilometre long circuit through Abergavenny, Usk and Monmouth, followed by four laps of the 7.2-kilometre circuit in Abergavenny.

Laura Trott took the under-23 title in 2013, the second rider home behind elite winner Lizzie Armistead. The 22-year-old from Cheshunt is in great form after a comprehensive victory in round four of the British Cycling Women’s Road Series under her belt.

Trott’s title defence will be aided by a strong team which also includes 19-year-old Elinor Barker, third in the 2013 under-23 event.

Lucy Garner will be Trott’s biggest rival. With an eye on the overall race win the 19-year-old double junior world champion from Leicestershire will be one to watch if she gets to the finish in Abergavenny in good shape.

"I'd love to be top three in the seniors so that is an aim - to get top-three," said Garner.

Hannah Barnes is a threat too. A punchy rider who can deliver in circuit races, Barnes may profit with the race finale on a circuit through Abergavenny.

Elite men

Start list

Men's road race course - Click to enlarge

The elite men will race for 186-kilometres, one lap of the 114-kilometre long circuit passing through Usk towards Newport before heading west to Chepstow.

The route then heads north through the Forest of Dean and Monmouth before heading back to the start at Abergavenny. Riders will then face 10 laps of the 7.2km short circuit.

Mark Cavendish was set to return to defend the title he won convincingly in Glasgow in 2013 until illness forced him to withdraw from the race. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider sprinted away from an elite breakaway group of Ian Stannard and David Millar to take the victory on the steep, technical streets of Glasgow a year ago.

But Cavendish's withdrawal will leave the door wide open for a number of challengers to take control of the race, most notably, Team Sky who have the formidable squad of Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Ben Swift, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Josh Edmondson on the start list.

History shows that the Team Sky men have the firepower to dictate proceedings. In 2010, Thomas, Kennaugh and Stannard broke away for a 1-2-3 in Lancashire. In 2011 Wiggins, Kennaugh and Thomas did the same in Northumberland. A year later and it was a solo victory for Ian Stannard.

Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe will have the extra motivation of riding on home roads, with Thomas coming into the event in top form after showing stellar form supporting Chris Froome in the Criterium du Dauphine.

Third behind Cavendish and Stannard in 2013, David Millar returns as the lone Garmin Sharp rider, the 37-year-old showing his class and proving that neither age nor lack of team support are a barrier to success. A veteran of numerous Grand Tour solo attacks and breakaways, Millar may get involved in a race that many predict will fragment into small elite groups.

Like Millar, Alex Dowsett is another WorldTour rider flying solo in the road race. Though focussed on the time-trial, the Movistar pro is capable of soloing to victory on a good day.

Simon and Adam Yates, though just 21-years-old, will ride for the elite title for Orica GreenEdge. Adam’s first season has been outstanding, winning the Tour of Turkey, taking fifth in the Amgen Tour of California followed by a stunning sixth in the Criterium du Dauphine.

Simon’s debut season as a neo-pro was wrecked by a broken collarbone at the Tour of Turkey but the Tour of Britain stage winner has been training hard at the team’s training base in Girona in preparation for the nationals. While the finish might not suit the Bury-born twins, the Yates brothers are both keen to animate the race with their attacking style. 

"You've got to try haven't you?” Simon said. “If you don't try then you never know. If it is as hilly as we think it is I think 'why not have a go' and try and make the race a bit?

Yates also warned not to discount the British domestic squads, whose strength in depth makes them a serious threat to the WorldTour riders on the roster.  NFTO have 11 riders including the on form Jon Mould and under-23 time-trial champion Sam Harrison. Madison Genesis bring nine men including Andy Tennant, rising under-23 star Scott Davies and Tom Stewart, who lit up the Tour Series with consecutive wins.

Under-23 men

Start list

The battle for the under-23 title will be one of the most hotly contested in many years, with a host of promising young road talent on the start list.

Favourite on paper is Owain Doull – the 21-year-old from Cardiff will be racing in his own back yard and comes into the race on the back of a fourth place finish in the under-23 Tour of Flanders. Doull was second under-23 home last year in Glasgow and wants to go one better in Abergavenny.

"After coming second in the under-23s last year it would be nice to take the jersey this year,” said Doull. “It's like a home nationals for me. I know the roads and train on them a lot of the time.”

But as Doull suggested in his pre-race interview competition will be tough, with fellow Welshman Jon Mould riding in a big NFTO squad and Rapha Condor JLT fielding a robust 11-man team with a big focus on the under-23 category.

Returning from injury is Tao Geoghegan-Hart, the 19-year-old having finished third in the under-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April. Geoghegan-Hart then rode his first major stage race, the Amgen Tour of California, before injury blighted his mid-season.

The nationals will be Geoghegan-Hart’s first race since May but if the Bissell Development Team rider is on-form, he will be a contender.  

British Cycling will be providing live updates from the championships at www.britishcycling.org.uk/nationalroadchampionshipslive.